Angels in my Hair by Lorna Byrne: 'When people talk to me, they seem to get filled with light'
Lorna Byrne says she talks to angels every day. I was prepared to think she was a little crazy -- until I met her face to face, says Sue Leonard
If you met a woman who said that she talked to angels every day, you might be forgiven for raising a discreetly cynical eyebrow. But somehow Lorna Byrne is different.
Thousands of people say that she has changed their lives for the better, and a hard-headed publisher believed in her story enough to get her to write a book -- and that book is now right up there near the top of the Irish best-sellers list.
I went to meet her with a typical journalist's scepticism -- and came away feeling strangely energised. But let's start at the beginning, with the basic outline of Lorna's life.
When she was a child, Lorna was considered retarded. Unable to learn at school, she had few friends, and seemed always to live in another world.
Bought up in near poverty, Lorna left school early, and worked in her father's garage. There she met Joe, her first boyfriend, and the man she went on to marry. Life was tough. Joe suffered from a type of diabetes that could not be controlled. He had to give up work and, after a series of small strokes and seizures, died in his forties. They had four children. Three are now grown. Lorna lives with the youngest, who is 12, dividing her time between Kilkenny and Maynooth, in houses that have been loaned to her.
In her autobiography, Angels in my Hair, Lorna tells the reader that she sees angels and spirits; that they are her constant companions.
These include an Archangel, Michael, and the prophet Elijah. It was he, she tells us, who showed her Joe in a vision when she was a child. And he told her that she would marry Joe; that they would be happy, but that he would die early.
The increasing number of Irish people who ask questions of angels, and who attend mystics will have no problem believing Lorna. The sick and troubled she has prayed for and helped certainly believe in her.
Jim Corr, Daniel O'Donnell and Coronation Street's William Roche have all given her glowing testimonials.
I didn't know what to expect when I went to meet Lorna at a Dublin hotel. Was she a fraud, or worse, could she be deranged? I was disarmed by the gentleness of the women who greeted me with a shy smile. Soft spoken, Lorna looks much younger than her 54 years. There's a serenity about her, and an innocence.
"I don't like to call myself a psychic; I hate that word," she says. "I am afraid to say I am a healer, but I do help people physically and emotionally. A lot of people have got well."
This 'healing' is often emotional. Lorna sees things about someone's life, and in explaining, helps the person come to terms with it. She can tell, too, when someone is sick and why, often before the condition becomes known by medical tests.
"I won't tell fortunes," she says. "Often people ask me to, but I feel that is dangerous. It's hard, when a beautiful young man comes to see me, and he knows he is unwell. I am told by the angels, 'yes, he is terminal, but the doctors can't find it'.
"I keep sending him back to the doctors, and eventually, when it shows up I know it is too late. I have to help the family through it."
Lorna keeps smiling. She tells me that she can see angels, right now, right here in the room; as clearly as she can see me.
"They are coming and going and messing around with a pen and a pad. They are great mimics. One of them is even wearing a sun hat. They cheer me up."
I listen, keeping an open mind.
"When I was a child I'd play with this little boy Christopher," she says. "He'd drift in and out of my life. When I touched him, he sparked. That was when I realised he was not flesh and blood. Later, my mother told me that Christopher had been born before me, but had died at 10 weeks old."
Lorna says she has been chosen by the angels to spread a message: "I hate saying it, yet I know I was. I feel privileged that the angels enabled me to see them so clearly. They are there and they have taught me everything." That, she says, is why she had such severe learning difficulties.
"The angels kept me away from people and from other children too. They said they didn't want me contaminated by human contact. And that wasn't hard. I had the angels.
"I would wander off somewhere; to my room or to the bottom of the garden. If I was with a group they would talk to me without words. They were my friends. My best companions."
Being close to them is also a burden, she says. "Sometimes I give out to God and the angels. I say: 'you put too much on my shoulders'." And that, she agrees, includes knowing that Joe would die young. "That hurt. It blew me apart. I never told Joe I knew that. How could I?"
It was to be many years before she told him about her gifts. "When I told him it made sense to him. He said, 'I knew you were different. That is why I picked you'."
Lorna charges the three people a week she agrees to see. Most pay e50-100 and stay for an hour and a half. But it's not a commercial enterprise. They keep in touch, ringing her, sometimes for years afterwards, and rarely offer to pay for her wisdom.
Lorna has always known that she would, one day, write a book. "The angels told me so when I was quite young," she says. How though, was that possible, when Lorna can barely write? When I ask her to sign the book she has enormous difficulties. She writes awkwardly, and has to ask me to spell even the simplest of words.
"People have been put into my life to make it possible," she says. "One person just bought me a laptop and a 'speak easy'. You just talk into it. Someone else set it up for me."
The book has reached number three in the Irish best seller lists. How though, did such an 'alternative' book get published, and with such a prestigious publisher as Random House?
Lorna's PA, Jean Callanan, helped with that one. Jean was Marketing Director for Waterford Crystal when she first encountered Lorna. Impressed by the mystic, she was, nevertheless sceptical when Lorna informed her she would, one day, help her to write a book.
When it was time, Jean took the Artists and Writer's yearbook to Lorna. Lorna opened it randomly, pointed to Random House and said, "they are going to publish it". Jean just laughed.
"I thought, 'how am I going to manage that one'," she says, when we talk, later, on the phone. But three months later, she met an agent at a dinner party and mentioned the book.
"He said his friend Mark Booth ran Century -- part of Random House and that I should try him," says Jean. "He's a serious commercial publisher, producing three top 10 best sellers every year. He met Lorna, was impressed by her, and agreed to publish at once."
Everyone has spiritual gifts, Lorna believes. "We all have that experience when we know we should have gone to someone or rung them. We should ask questions of angels and listen. We should make contact, even if you had a row years ago. That phone call might stop someone jumping off a cliff."
Lorna has had a near death experience. She has seen heaven, she says, many times. She has seen souls, and knows that our souls separate from our bodies at death. Therefore, she says, at that moment of death, everyone is at peace.
"I always pray that someone will have a peaceful death, but I do that for the sake of the family. I know the dying person will be all right."
Lorna, meanwhile, is lonely. She would love someone special in her life. In fact, she says she gives out to the angels about it; all the time.
" I say, 'please give me someone who would share openly with me and understand,' and they don't say yes or no. They just smile."
Lorna knows she can't 'prove' her story. She does meet with cynicism, but this doesn't worry her. "When people talk to me they seem to get filled with light. I change things for them. They change. They send a text saying, 'something is happening. You have helped me'."
And Lorna is extraordinary. Whether or not her angels are real, I left her feeling recharged. It was like an experience I had, several years ago when a Glenstal Monk showed me the Icon Chapel. I walked out buzzing with energy, yet at peace.
Angels in my Hair by Lorna Byrne is published by Century, from e10.99